Love is a funny thing, and it has proven to be a supple theme for dozens of filmmakers to explore, highlight, and rip apart over the years. Yorgos Lanthimos, a Greek director, is the next to take a swing at the beguiling feeling with his surrealist flick, The Lobster. In a film so steeped in criticism about modern love and dating, it is often easy to lose interest with just how absurd the movie actually is, even though that’s exactly what it’s going for.
Imagine a world where single people are taken off to a hotel where they are prompted to find a romantic companion; it sounds pretty much like The Bachelor—but there are no dramatic outbursts, cheesy dialogue, or dozens of hot men and women vying for attention. It’s strictly awkward, and at the end of a 45 day period, anybody left single is transformed into an animal in hopes that they can still find companionship.
When his wife leaves him for another man, David (Colin Farrell) winds up at the hotel. After a series of questions anybody who has ever been on a dating site has answered—with the exception of the whole “which animal would you like to be transformed into?”—David adjusts to life at the hotel which includes propagandist displays of why being in a relationship is so great, and hunting “loners” in the forest with tranquilizer guns. Yep, you read that right.
David mingles with other residents who have been boiled down to purely stereotypical labels such as “Limping Man” (Ben Whishaw) and “Lisping Man” (John C. Reilly). Most of these seems pretty straight forward, but due to the fragmented editing and nonconventional frame of storytelling, the movie eventually becomes a little hard to follow as nobody has names and there isn’t always the clearest sense of what is going on.
Relying heavily on Farrell’s performance of a lonely, awkward man, it’s clear that Lanthimos is trying to skewer modern day relationships. Everyone is boiled down to their most defining aspects while the dialogue consists of awkward first-date type questioning. There is little to no emotion, making it hard to feel any sympathy for the characters. Combined with the stringent rules of the hotel, Lanthimos makes our dating lives seem absolutely bonkers, which it is if you really look at it: finding someone, questioning them about their lives, doing stuff and making great sacrifices for them, and become ever-lasting companions until the end of our days—but he also shows that those who don’t find love are often criticized and condemned.
There’s a lot to like here, particularly how fresh and unpredictable it is, but there is also a lot to be turned off by. For people not used to absurdist or surreal films, it might simply be too much to handle. But for those who want something a little weird—and challenging—The Lobster is certainly a film that will be discussed at length for years to come.